Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, a team that has had a really unfortunate year in more ways than just their cellar-dwelling résumé suggests.
Some may think Kentucky unfortunate to lose Nerlens Noel to a season-ending injury, and that is truly unfortunate for both Noel and UK. But MSU has had attrition that dwarfs anything experienced by Kentucky:
- Two MSU freshmen have had season-ending ACL injuries;
- Senior Wendell Lewis was lost to a season-ending fractured patella;
- Jalen Steele, the team’s second-leading scorer, missed eight games due to a broken wrist, and three more because of a suspension.
- Sophomore Roquez Johnson has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of the team’s rules.
That’s what serious misfortune looks like, and so it’s no wonder the Bulldogs, under newly-minted head coach Rick Ray, are bringing up the rear in the SEC. It is against this depleted lineup that UK will test it’s newfound confidence tonight.
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Season so far
|Rank and Records||MState||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#107||#54|
|RPI Top 50||0-5||1-4|
Kentucky’s series with Mississippi St., as with most SEC schools, goes back into antiquity when MSU was known as Mississippi A&M. It doesn’t go back as far as Tennessee, mind you – That rivalry goes back to 1910. But 1928 was a long time ago. and that was the first time that Kentucky played what is now Mississippi St.
MSU, like most SEC schools, hasn’t had much luck against UK. All time, including the Mississippi A&M days, the Bulldogs are 20-89 against UK (22.5%). MSU has had exactly one winning streak of three or more games over UK, between March 2007 and February 2009, which represents the last time Kentucky has lost to the ’Dawgs.
The most points ever scored by a Mississippi St. player against Kentucky is 37 by Baily Howell back in 1957. Jim Andrews scored 34 against the Bulldogs in 1972.
Freshman guard Craig Sword is MSU’s leading scorer at almost 10 points per game. He is joined in the back court by freshman Fred Thomas (9.4 ppg) and sophomore Trivante Bloodman (6 ppg). Bloodman is the assist leader with 2.4 per game.
The entire front court for MSU consists of 2 guys, freshman Gavin Ware and junior Colin Borchert. Ware is the leading rebounder at 6.5 per game, and Borchert is the leading shot-blocker with 1.3 blocks per game.
Junior Jalen Steele is the sixth man, and he plays starters minutes. Steele is the second-leading scorer at 9.7 points per game, and is the team’s best 3-point shooter at 34%. MSU has no front-court players available on the bench.
Four Factors and Ken Pomeroy Tables
|Category||MSU with ball||UK with ball|
|Efficiency||83.0 14||103.1 12||106.2 4||110.5 14|
|Tempo||66.6 4||65.4 6|
|Effective FG%:||43.3 13||45.3 3||52.5 2||53.8 14|
|Turnover %:||25.1 14||14.6 14||20.6 8||21.0 6|
|Off. Reb. %:||26.1 14||33.6 11||34.9 4||39.1 14|
|FTA/FGA:||35.8 8||29.4 4||47.3 2||28.6 1|
|3P%:||26.9 14||32.5 7||35.6 4||35.6 13|
|2P%:||44.8 11||44.1 3||52.2 2||54.1 14|
|FT%:||65.9 9||71.8 13||65.0 11||71.0 11|
|Block%:||12.8 12||15.6 1||10.1 6||9.0 12|
|Steal%:||13.3 14||6.7 13||9.3 5||10.9 6|
Statistics are for SEC play only. Compiled by Kenpom.com. Numbers to the right of statistics indicate conference rank.
There’s really not much to say here. Kentucky comes out on top in all the four factors.
Mississippi St. is a team decimated by injury and misbehavior. It is by far the smallest team in the SEC and has no more actual depth than Kentucky does. It is, by any measure, a weak team in a weak position. Willie Cauley-Stein towers over their front line, and their guards are not big, either.
With that said, the Bulldogs don’t just go out, jack it up from three, and hope for the best. They try to work the ball inside to their bigger players and score. They shoot more three pointers, on average, than Kentucky does, and are mostly playing a zone defense this year. Naturally, that will give Kentucky fans some concern, but if Julius Mays, Kyle Wiltjer and even Archie Goodwin can continue their good shooting, that may be a benefit.
MSU will give this game all they can, be scrappy and intense. They do get quite a few steals with their pressure, so Kentucky has to be careful, as the Wildcats guards are prone to turnovers. If the Bulldogs hope to find a way to beat UK, the very best way is to get a bunch more shots by turning the Wildcats over and beating them to the offensive glass.
This is a game that Kentucky can’t even afford to allow to be competitive, and that is a bit of pressure in and of itself. The Vanderbilt game that Kentucky won two contests back did some damage to their NCAA hopes despite the fact it was a win, and another performance like that could undo some of the good will UK earned by beating the Missouri Tigers on Saturday.
Contemplating a loss makes no sense in this game, but if it were to happen, it would be really hard to recover from, and that’s an understatement.